Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A wild and woolly Christmas, a tornado and Boxing Day

Chistmas Day in Australia was eventful.  Storm clouds were brewing up during the morning, then late in the afternoon the skies opened up.  High intensity thunderstorm cells dumped very heavy rain at some locations, and hail that broke the windows of parked cars.

Section of train line were badly damaged near Hurstbridge when floodwater washed away the track ballast.

A tornado was even forecast for western Melbourne. It duly arrived at Fiskville and Keilor Downs where it caused some local damage to properties.  This is the only actual tornado in Melbourne that I can recall.

There was some rain early Boxing Day but the storms had subsided.  Lena, Chloe and I did a family to the National Art Gallery of Victoria (curious name!) and visited Picasso's Weeping Woman among many other fine paintings.

We stopped at Waffle On for a nice waffle and a chat with Marc.  Then we visited Myer's famous Christmas windows, which were fun and not too crowded, before heading home on the train.

Chloe asked "why is it called Boxing Day?".  I wasn't too sure so I looked it up.  It turned out to be a good question.  

The exact etymology of Boxing Day is unclear. There are several competing theories. The tradition has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions. The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era; metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen.

In the United Kingdom, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This custom is linked to an older English tradition: wealthy landowners allowed their servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.

In many Western countries, Boxing Day has become synonymous with consumption, where many line up at department stores in search of bargains at "Boxing Day sales". Many products are bought for their reduced price rather than for real need.

There is an opportunity for us to rediscover the traditional roots of Boxing Day and give a gift to someone who may need it. Using up leftovers from the Christmas Day dinner is also a good practice.

All the best for the New Year.

Photo slideshow

External links

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Baillieu government must stop logging Victorian rainforest

Local conservationists have yet again had to take court action and use blockades to stop VicForests, the Victorian Government's logging business, from logging protected rainforest in East Gippsland.

VicForests have form. They were found guilty of breaking the law relating the protection of endangered species in Brown Mountain's forest in the Supreme Court in August 2010.  Over a year later, despite a court order, they are yet to pay the court costs awarded against them to Environment East Gippsland.

In July this year, VicForests started logging forest near Sylvia Creek that is home to Leadbeaters Possum. They were stopped by another court order following legal action initiated by local environment group MyEnvironment.  This court case, scheduled to be heard early next year, is again about VicForests ignoring the laws concerned with protecting endangered species.

The Baillieu government's response to VicForest's illegal and unethical practices is to reward them with 20 year contracts for logging our remaining native forests, indemnify their contracts, allow them to determine the amount of forest they can log and allow them to log forests in reserves, parks and water catchments.

The Baillieu government has also announced an intention to change the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act to that a bureaucrat can exempt VicForests from complying with it, thereby allowing them to log forests that are and should be protected.

There is a whiff of cronyism and corruption about VicForests too.  Graeme Stoney, Premier Ted Baillieu's brother in law, has been recently appointed to the VicForests board by the government.  Stoney has also recently been active behind the scenes coordinating the return of cattle to graze in the Alpine National Park under the bogus pretext of "research into the role of cattle in bushfire mitigation".

The native forest logging industry is in terminal decline. Regional Forests Agreements have failed. The global market for woodchips, the major "product" that comes from out native forests, has collapsed.  Despite accelerating logging, jobs continue to decline.  The industry is largely automated now.

In addition, the wholesale conversion of native forests into plantations by continued logging and burning is simply not sustainable, as scientists such as Professor David Lindenmeyer have stated.

There is enough plantation resource available in Victoria right now to supply our timber and pulp needs.  The Victorian government should get out of the logging business, get rid of VicForests, and support our sustainable plantation-based timber and wood products industries.

Our native forests should be protected for the carbon they store, their biodiversity, their function as water catchments and because they are wonderful places to visit.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Durban Climate Change Conference fails miserably with a whimper

After three decades of scientific evidence - and warnings - that we are now experiencing dangerous climate change, I had some hope that the Durban Climate Change Conference (COP17) would at last result in some real global action to tackle carbon emissions - and endorse forest protection.

Unfortunately, this has not happened.

After several days of fraught "negotiations" the outcome (curiously described by some as a "breakthrough") seems to be

"a commitment to develop a agreement between all countries by 2015, that will take effect in 2020".

This quite obviously means no real action on reducing carbon emissions, protecting forests, or addressing the chronic imbalance between First World and Third World economies.

Unfortunately, this is yet another pointer that the end of the world as we know it is looming.

This outcome fails the following key tests: 
  • Are global emissions going down? No.
  • When will emissions go down and atmospheric CO2 be stabilised or decline? Don't know. 
It appears that for all the rhetoric, the bottom line is that First World countries really don't want to stop excessive emissions and some Developing Nations don't want to give up their "right" to increase them. 

So if Governments, nations and the United Nations can't take action on climate change, it looks like you and I have to.

Friday, December 09, 2011

LETTER: Please maintain New York state ban on fracking and criminalize the practice

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I am writing to demand that you permanently maintain New York State’s fracking ban. Fracking is a completely unacceptable practice that destroys water, land, air and people. It should be criminal.

It is very wrong to blow up Earth, destroying scarce water, for limited fossil fuel energy with no climate benefits as claimed. New York State must not allow ecosystems to be destroyed. The best path is to transition from unsustainable energy use to 100% renewable energy, along with dramatic energy efficiency and energy conservation improvements.

The DEC public comment process has been a deeply flawed sham – asking for public opinion while the decision has already been made to start fracking. The revised draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (rdSGEIS) is little more than greenwash, as it would allow fracking in 85% of New York's Marcellus Shale, injecting hundreds of billions of gallons of toxic fluid that will never be recovered, and will find their way into New York state's water.

Most importantly, it fails to provide long-term protection of drinking water sources. It does not analyze fracking’s health impacts, doesn’t ban the use of known carcinogens, provides no specific plans for disposal of hazardous fracking wastes and may impede local governments from banning this deadly practice.

The practice of fracking will never be environmentally acceptable, much less sustainable, and the temporary ban must become permanent. Failure on your part to do so will make you personally responsible for vast water contamination that will poison the New York citizens you have sworn to serve. It would also certainly have major repercussions for your re-election prospects.

The world is watching – do what is right for the people, water, sustainable livelihoods, and ecology – not the energy oligarchy.

With grave concern,

Peter Campbell

NOTE: You can send your own email on this important issue here: Don’t Frack with Our Water: Support New York State Residents in Maintaining the Ban

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Submission on the proposed Basin Plan

TO: Murray Darling Basin Authority
DATE: 6 December 2011


I have visited the Murray Darling basin on many occasions, from the headwaters of the Murray River at Cowambat Flat all the way to the lower lakes of the Murray mouth and the Coorong.

The river system is remarkable. Its natural systems are unique in Australia and irreplaceable.

It has been obvious for decades that too much water was being drawn from the system, mainly for agricultural use. I studied Agricultural Science at Latrobe university, during which I learnt that much of the irrigation infrastructure was very wasteful of water, including open channels, flood irrigation of dairy pastures, sprinkler irrigation systems and even rice cultivation.

South Australia has born the brunt of the problems with drastic depletion of the river flow in its lower reaches and serious pollution of the water by heavy salt burdens and agricultural chemicals. Adelaide still sources the majority of its drinking wate from the Murray River.

The drastic impacts on the lower Murray, its lakes and the Coorong during the recent 10 year drought were unacceptable. Some lakes drained, exposed soils became acidified and toxic, and sea water threatened to invade the freshwater system and severly impact its freshwater ecosystem.

Regular flushing of the river system - as used to happen during regular floods - is essential for its health.

Appropriate regular ecological flows are essential for preserving the integrity and life of the Murray Darling system. I understand that scientists have recommended a minimum of 4000 gigalitres.

Reducing ecological flows in response to political campaigns and pressure from industries that continue to demand unsustainable quantities of water from the system will damage and even kill the system. When this happens, the industries will be forced to reduce their water use - they cannot use water that is not there.

The 2750GL now recommended by the Authority is not enough to save the system.

In addition, the doubling of extraction from groundwater resources is also likely to deplete aquifers.

The low environmental water flow and more extraction of groundwater will put ecosystems, communities and industries at risk.

The Plan must halt the decline of waterbirds, fish, red gums, flora and fauna, reduce blue-green algae outbreaks and improve water quality. A minimum of 4000 gigalitres is necessary to achieve this.
Peter Campbell

Information about how to make a submission is here: Murray-Darling Basin Authority